- Gerardo Lissard
- BBC News World
When Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said things that someone close to him associated with Nazism, his invitation to an influential conservative forum this week was quickly upheld in the United States.
“Let’s hear the man talk,” suggested Matt Schlapp, president of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), speaking to Bloomberg News last week.
CPAC brings together a broad sector of the American right-wing movement.
His meeting in Texas between this Thursday and Sunday is expected to be attended by figures such as former President Donald Trump, senators, congressmen and Republican governors, in addition to Orbán.
The presence at that meeting of a Hungarian nationalist leader accused of authoritarianism and extremism is seen as the latest sign of the admiration Orbán earned among many conservatives across the Atlantic.
In fact, he presents himself to them as an international benchmark.
When Budapest hosted a CPAC meeting for the first time in May, Orbán defined his country as “the laboratory where we have tested the antidote against the dominance of progressives.”
“He represents what many American conservatives want today,” Rick Wilson, a former Republican strategist, tells BBC Mundo. “Orbán is a model that they could not achieve with Trump.”
“Proof of Concept”
At 59 years old and in office for 12 years, the Hungarian prime minister has shaped a peculiar government in the European Union.
At first glance, it looks like a democracy like any other: Orbán has been elected four consecutive times, the last time in April. However, he defines it as an “illiberal democracy”.
His government defies the principles of the rule of law proclaimed by the EU and rejects immigration or sexual diversity, which Orbán points out as threats to Hungary’s national and Christian identity.
According to experts, the “culture war” declared by the Hungarian ruler is far from the only thing captivating American conservatives.
“I am concerned that the second thing that appeals to them is that Orbán has won four times in a row because he designed the Hungarian electoral and legal system so that he cannot lose: he has installed himself in power forever,” says Kim Scheppele, a professor of sociology and international affairs at Princeton University.
Since coming to power in 2010, Orbán has reformed the Hungarian constitution and filled the main courts of justice with his appointees.
He has also been accused of attacking freedom of the press and controlling the media with various tricks, quelling dissidence in NGOs or universities, and favoring friendly businessmen.
Orbán’s success in advancing with his policies against the EU and, at the same time, maintaining the appearance of a democracy generates interest in a sector of the US right, the specialists point out.
Scheppele argues that by changing the Hungarian electoral rules—for example, by redrawing voting districts—Orbán demonstrated how it is possible to achieve victories at the polls even without winning a majority of the vote.
In migration policy, the Orbán government built a barrier on Hungary’s southern border in 2015 to prevent the entry of immigrants and refugees, in addition to limiting asylum concessions.
“When you look at what the US did under Trump with the southern border, it was an almost exact copy of the step-by-step plan that Orbán put in place. So I think they are paying attention to it,” Scheppele says. , who worked for years in Hungary.
“Republicans are looking at Hungary as a kind of proof of concept: to show that their vision of politics works,” the academic tells BBC Mundo.
Trump compared himself to Orbán before his 2020 electoral defeat, which he refused to admit, and his supporters violently invaded the Capitol to prevent them from certifying the victory of today’s President Joe Biden.
“Victor Orbán has done a tremendous job in many ways,” Trump said upon welcoming him to the White House in 2019. “(He’s) respected throughout Europe. Probably a bit like me, a bit controversial, but that’s fine.”
On the US right, they exalt the way in which the Hungarian leader promotes his policies and deny that he has anti-democratic attitudes.
“Hungary and its government have been mercilessly and unfairly attacked: ‘It’s authoritarian, they’re fascist…’ There are a lot of lies being told right now, that may be the biggest of all,” said Tucker Carlson, star anchor of the US conservative channel Fox News. , visiting Hungary last year.
During CPAC in Budapest in May, Orbán praised Carlson (suggesting shows like his should be broadcast non-stop) and said that owning media is key to the conservative battle.
Other advice he gave to the US right included “playing by your own rules” and “refusing to accept solutions and paths offered by others”, as well as prioritizing the “national interest” in foreign policy or “breaking taboos”. ” in the fight against rivals.
One of the enemies pointed out by Orbán —and also by US conservatives— is the billionaire and philanthropist George Soros.
Born in Budapest in 1930 into a Jewish family and promoter of liberal ideas around the world, Soros has been accused without evidence by Orbán of having a plan to fill Hungary with immigrants and destroy the nation.
Some saw that campaign against Soros as an attempt to revive anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Orbán set off new alarms days ago, arguing in Romania that Europeans are against becoming “mixed-race” peoples.
His speech was called a “text of pure Nazism” by Zsuzsa Hegedus, a close adviser to Orbán who resigned in protest. It was also rejected by the US government, the European Commission, Jewish organizations and intellectuals.
A spokesman for the Hungarian prime minister said his remarks had been misunderstood, but Orbán later said they represented a “cultural” point of view.
Despite this controversy, the presence of the Hungarian ruler at the CPAC in Texas was ratified by the organizers, who suggested that it is a matter of freedom of expression.
“When we silence people we miss the opportunity to find out why we agree or disagree with their point of view,” Schlapp tweeted. “The more freedom of expression, the sooner we find the truth.”
Analysts believe that Orbán weaves ties with the US right to break his isolation in Europe, for his policies and for being seen as an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Yet all of this worries experts on authoritarianism like Erica Frantz, a political science professor at Michigan State University.
In his opinion, “that CPAC has invited Orbán to speak is a sign that the conservative movement is embracing – or at least not shying away from – a more authoritarian agenda.”
“The support of the (US) conservative movement for Orbán suggests that he does not care about his lack of respect for democratic institutions,” Frantz tells BBC Mundo. “This is, of course, worrying.”
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